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What to look out for during Duke men's basketball's Countdown to Craziness

<p>Vernon Carey Jr. was among the attendees of Countdown to Craziness last year, but now will be the star of the show.</p>

Vernon Carey Jr. was among the attendees of Countdown to Craziness last year, but now will be the star of the show.

The time has finally arrived for the unofficial start to the Duke season.

Cameron Indoor Stadium will be rocking Friday night for the program's annual season kickoff, Countdown to Craziness, with the team scheduled to be introduced at 8 p.m. followed by an intra-squad scrimmage. The Cameron Crazies are eager to catch a glimpse of the new squad and the pristine 2019 ACC tournament championship banner, with less than three weeks until the Blue Devils officially kick off the campaign against Kansas.

Here are five questions to be answered when the festivities of the 2019-20 season gets underway Friday:

1. How has Tre Jones improved his shooting?

Last season, with the likes of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish on the roster, Jones had a defined role of feeding those three the ball and playing lockdown defense. This season, the sophomore floor general will be tasked with becoming a go-to scorer on a team that only returns about a quarter of its scoring from a year ago. Jones started to show a nice touch on mid-range shots towards the end of last season and has a polished finishing ability around the basket, but the real question will be if he can consistently knock down a 3-point shot.

The Apple Valley, Minn., native seems to have more deep threats around him this year to space the floor and no one is expecting him to shoot a 40 percent clip from beyond the arc, but there needs to be enough improvement to where teams don't collapse in the paint and dare Jones to shoot like against Central Florida in the NCAA tournament. If the preseason All-ACC first team selection can force opposing defenses to respect his shot, it could propel him to All-American honors and an NBA first round draft grade.

2. Who will step up with interior defense?

A key loss with the roster turnover is that the Blue Devils are now left with questions surrounding rim protection. Williamson and Marques Bolden tallied 1.8 and 1.7  blocks per game, respectively, but now both are on pro teams. Jack White was fearless last year when it came to contesting possible dunk attempts, but his 6-foot-7 frame couldn't possibly handle 270-pound Udoka Azubuike, who Duke will see on opening night against the Jayhawks. Even Antonio Vrankovic, who could be relied on to play physical in the post for small stretches, has graduated.

Ultimately, the Blue Devils will rely on freshman Vernon Carey Jr. and senior Javin DeLaurier to shoulder much of the load when it comes to defending big men. However, Carey is not known for his defensive prowess and DeLaurier has shown tendencies to get in foul trouble, so it will be interesting to see how they fare in the paint on the defensive end.

3. How will Vernon Carey Jr. be used offensively?

One look at Duke's highest-rated recruit in the 2019 class and you would expect a paint-dominant big who will outmuscle all the competition with his 6-foot-10, 270 pound frame. Although Carey has some of those same skills Blue Devil fans last saw with Jahlil Okafor, the freshman center also has the skills to work outside of the paint, and could turn into a nightmare of a weapon for Mike Krzyzewski.

The Duke head coach never really used Williamson in pick-and-roll plays last year, so it's likely he wouldn't try that with Carey either. However, the NSU University School product can step out and shoot the ball to stretch the floor, the question is how much? Krzyzewski could choose to leave Carey down low to grind out points in the paint or the big man could float around the court, making the Blue Devils' offense a puzzle to defend. 

4. Will there be a dunk contest?

A sell-out crowd of 9,314 went home disappointed from the 2018 edition of Countdown to Craziness when the program elected not to have a dunk contest with Williamson and company. Duke last had a dunk contest as part of the festivities in 2017, and many are wondering if it could make a return this season.

The Blue Devils may not have a star as big as Williamson this year, but freshman Cassius Stanley showed some incredible hops in a scrimmage earlier this month, and players like Alex O'Connell and DeLaurier also have the athleticism to make it interesting. Maybe the cancellation last year was to try and keep a "strictly a dunker" label away from Zion, but hopefully the Cameron Crazies will get to see some high-risers in 2019.

5. Who will have the best intro?

Before the scrimmage tips off, each player will be introduced to the home crowd with a chance to get creative and show off their personalities. Though 2018 was a little dry in terms of theatrics, it will be interesting to see if any of the 2019-20 Blue Devils can leave a lasting impression.

Grayson Allen stole the show in 2017 by starting his senior year the only way he could... with Cascada.

And despite the many eccentric intros from the great Nolan Smith, it will be hard for anyone to top Chase Jeter for the greatest Countdown to Craziness intro of all time.

This squad may not have the same amount of hype as last year, but Krzyzewski has assembled another roster capable of winning a national championship, and the basketball world is ready to get their first look.


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